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Remembering Delta’s Intra-European 727 Flights

Despite its now small presence in the German city, the Atlanta-based carrier was once a dominant market player.


A Delta 727 in Frankfurt (Photo: Aero Icarus from Zürich, Switzerland, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)

Rarely does an airline operate narrow-body aircraft in regional markets outside of its home country. While this practice was more prevalent a few decades ago, today one would be hard-pressed to find examples of this practice.

A carryover from the 2010 Continental merger, one example of this is United’s ‘Island Hopper,’ which connects several islands in Micronesia using a Boeing 737-800. The route doesn’t touch any of United’s mainland hubs.

With decades of consolidation and concentration on hub-and-spoke network models, today it is difficult to imagine a world where a U.S. carrier would fly regional flights in Europe. But Delta did exactly that only 30 years ago.

A Pan Am Relic

In 1991, Delta acquired several of financially ailing Pan Am’s assets, including a variety of routes and aircraft leases. Valued at $416 million according to the Chicago Tribune, the acquisition also included Pan Am’s hub in Frankfurt (FRA).

Formed in 1954, Pan Am maintained a so-called Internal German Service (I.G.S.) with a hub in Berlin and another base in Frankfurt, per the Pan Am Historical Foundation. Frankfurt eventually morphed into a smaller intra-European operation along with a stop-over point for several of Pan Am’s long-haul India, Africa, and Middle East flights.

Pan Am continued to maintain a strong presence in Frankfurt up until Delta acquired the hub. At the time, German flag carrier Lufthansa was also bolstering its hub in Frankfurt.

Delta in Frankfurt

After acquiring Pan Am’s assets, Delta kept the Frankfurt hub for several years. In addition to its transatlantic flights, the carrier maintained a 727 base in the German city. According to Flightglobal, Delta flew Boeing 727s from Frankfurt to Athens, Bucharest, Istanbul, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Warsaw.

Delta also had a sizeable transatlantic presence in Frankfurt to various U.S. gateways, including Washington Dulles, Dallas/Fort Worth, Portland, and San Francisco. Frankfurt served as a connecting point for transatlantic and intra-European flights, all on Delta aircraft.

A Delta 727 in Prague (Photo: G B_NZ, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

With the Skyteam Alliance taking shape and a subsequent partnership with Air France, Delta’s Frankfurt hub began ramping down in the late 1990s. With it also came the axing of the airline’s intra-European operation.

In 1997, when air transportation was completely liberalized in the European Union, most of Delta’s intra-European flights were scrapped and the 727s deployed to U.S. markets. The airline also nixed several of its transatlantic flights to Frankfurt, pivoting to focus on bolstering European service from New York-JFK.

Nowadays, the landscape of intra-European flights has radically changed: competition is much tougher with almost 50% of the seats being provided by low-cost carrier, while before 1997 the model launched by Southwest Airlines in the U.S. was totally absent in Europe. Furthermore, the current E.U.-U.S. Open Skies Agreement does not allow U.S. carriers to sell seats on intra-European flights unless they are operate as the continuation of transatlantic services (so-called Fifth Freedom flights).

Now, Delta’s presence in Frankfurt is under the shadow of the Star Alliance, which dominates the market. The carrier only serves Detroit, Atlanta, and New York-JFK from Frankfurt, a far cry from just a few decades ago.

Ryan Ewing
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  • Ryan Ewing

    Ryan founded AirlineGeeks.com back in February 2013 and has amassed considerable experience in the aviation sector. His work has been featured in several publications and news outlets, including CNN, WJLA, CNET, and Business Insider. During his time in the industry, he's worked in roles pertaining to airport/airline operations while holding a B.S. in Air Transportation Management from Arizona State University along with an MBA. Ryan has experience in several facets of the industry from behind the yoke of a Cessna 172 to interviewing airline industry executives. Ryan works for AirlineGeeks' owner FLYING Media, spearheading coverage in the commercial aviation space.

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